By the Squannacook Runner

When this column appears in print, the Groton Road Race will be a few days away. Weeks of training over miles of roads and trails will all come down to a 20 to 35 minute 5K. To help your Race Day go smoothly, here's a rundown on what you should do:

GETTING READY: The day before the race (Saturday, April 27), between 10 am and 1 pm, drop by the Groton-Dunstable Middle School track off Route 119 to pick up your shirt (if you registered before the cutoff) and number. You could do this on Race Day, but an anticipated huge turnout could mean a long wait in line. Before entering the gym, look for your name and bib number on the list of pre-registered 5K entrants (the tables in the gym where you pick up your number are arranged by bib number, not name).

You will receive a shirt and your number with the timing chip on the back and don't forget your pins. If you haven't yet registered for the 5K, you're running out of time. You can register Saturday or Sunday prior to the races. On Saturday night, enjoy a meal rich in carbohydrates. Afterwards, try to get a good night's sleep. In the morning, eat a light breakfast.

Arrive at the race site one to one-and-a-half hours before the start of your event. The Tots' Trot begins at 10:45 a.m., with the 2K "fun run" following at 11:15. Start times for the 5K and 10K runs are 11:50 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively. Most runners arrive at a race dressed to compete. What you wear will be determined by weather and personal preference. Include a sweat suit or warm-up suit to keep you warm before and after the race. Bring spending money, sun screen, Vaseline, and a plastic bag to hold your sweats -- AND DON'T FORGET YOUR NUMBER PACKET, if you picked it up Saturday!

ARRIVAL: Primary parking for the Groton Road Race is at Pinpoint Deluxe (formerly NEBS) on Route 119 in Groton. A shuttle bus will take you to the race area at Groton-Dunstable Middle School. Limited parking is available at the school, but you'll have a difficult time leaving there until well after the 10K race is over. After your car is secured (DON'T forget your car key! I remove mine from the key ring and thread, tuck and tie it into the lace of one of my running shoes), walk or take the shuttle bus to the race site. When you get there, you'll see lots of activity. If you're at all confused, look for an information table situated in the gym. If you didn't get your race packet Saturday, pick it up at the gym.

PRERACE: Cold or rainy weather may force you to wait inside the gym until race time. If it's sunny, avoid overexposure to direct sunlight - it can sap some of your energy. Apply sunscreen to any exposed skin. Take in plenty of water, especially if it's warm. You'll find a water station near the start/finish area. Bathroom facilities will allow you to make any last-minute "pit stops" and apply Vaseline to chafe-prone areas. Secure the scoring chip around your ankle, following the directions in the packet. While you're at it, double knot your shoelaces. Pin your race number to the FRONT of your shirt or singlet. Use all four safety pins - you won't want to be bothered by a number that flaps up and down while you're running! NOTE: Please use the number you received. Transferring numbers only causes confusion.

About 10 to 15 minutes before the start of the 5K, find an area where you can do your warm-up stretches. When the announcement to line up for the race is given, remove your sweats, place them in a plastic bag, and either leave them in a designated area or hand them over to your companion/helper and head for the starting line. It's a matter of courtesy that you place yourself according to how you think you'll finish. During those exciting last few minutes before the starter's gun goes off, take deep breaths and do some last-minute stretches.

THE RACE: Once the starter's gun goes off, the runners will surge forward. Be careful and watch your step during that first stretch on the track - you'll be part of a 900-plus runner stampede! Be equally careful not to let the initial excitement cause you to go out too fast.

Relax and pace yourself. Race clocks will be placed at every mile of the 5K. Use these "splits" to properly pace yourself. Feel thirsty? No problem! A water station is located at mile 2 on the course. Don't try to drink and run at the same time, unless you plan on inhaling water. 

Should you encounter problems while out on the course, police and race officials will be there to help. Your most important race strategy? Have fun!

POST RACE: Immediately upon finishing, you'll be guided by a volunteer to a general finish area. Results will be posted on site and on the Internet at coolrunning.com. As soon as possible, get back into your sweats to avoid a chill, and do some warm down exercises. When you've caught your breath, wander over to the finish line to cheer on the remaining runners.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It's been fun guiding you along on your quest to run the Groton Road Race 5K. I hope the program worked for you. What's exciting is that, for you, this race doesn't spell the end. Hopefully, you'll move on to bigger and better things, perhaps the Groton 10K next year, maybe even a full-blown marathon in the not-so-distant future. Just remember, if you set realistic goals for yourself, YOU CAN DO IT! See you on Race Day.